Thursday, August 11th, 2022
We have all heard of probiotics. But what about prebiotics and synbiotics? Let’s take a look at some biotic definitions.
Amidst the surge in popularity for health and wellness products, biotic beverages have gained much attention. For beverage manufacturers wanting to ride on this trending wave, what should they take note of? First things first, it is best to sort out the definitions. We turn to the International Scientific Association for PROBIOTICS and PREBIOTICS (ISAPP) for some clarity.
How Are Probiotics And Prebiotics Good For Us?
Let’s look at the more familiar biotic terms: probiotics and prebiotics. We all have microbiota in our bodies. Microbiota are microorganisms that protect the intestine against harmful pathogens. Gut microbiota can be disturbed by factors such as medication and stress. Probiotics and prebiotics can help to normalise gut microbiota.
The ISAPP acknowledges that certain probiotic strains have some health benefits. These include helping to manage digestive discomfort, reducing the risk of upper respiratory tract infections or gut infections, and helping to reduce diarrhoea caused by antibiotics. There is also evidence that probiotics have other benefits such as improving our skin, liver and oral health.
However, ISAPP also cautioned, “Live microorganisms may be present in many foods and supplements, but only characterised strains with a scientifically demonstrated effect on health should be called probiotics. Live microbes present in traditional fermented foods and beverages such as kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi typically do not meet the required evidence level for probiotics, since their health effects have not been confirmed and the mixtures of microbes are largely uncharacterized.”
More is not always better. The dosage can range from 100 million to over a trillion CFU per day. Most probiotics have been tested at levels between 1-10 billion CFU/d. The product should contain at least the same amount of probiotics that was used in a study on benefits for consumers. Be sure the product contains at least the level of probiotics that was used in the study. Manufacturers should also indicate the levels of live probiotics up till the expiry date, and not at the time of manufacture.
In addition, certain groups of individuals — premature infants or those with compromised immune systems — might not be suited to take probiotics. To quote ISAPP again, “Mechanisms that drive probiotic benefits are an active area of research and in some cases may be known. However, confirming mechanisms is challenging and often they remain unconfirmed in humans even though a health benefit has been demonstrated.”
Simply put, prebiotics are food for the good microbes in our bodies. They are found naturally in everyday food such as onion, garlic and banana. Like probiotics, prebiotics can also be added into foods or taken as dietary supplements.
Prebiotics are found to have health benefits such as improving digestive health, supporting our immune system and aiding to improve glucose metabolism (the rate at which our bodies break down carbohydrates and sugars).
Most prebiotics require a daily dose of at least three grams in order to achieve any significant effect. However, at present, there is no official recommendation in terms of daily intake. Ingesting too much prebiotics can cause bloating. It is therefore important to start on a lower dosage and monitor how well your body can adapt to it before increasing the intake.
The third biotic term, synbiotics, was created in 1995. Synbiotics refers to a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. Synbiotics may be created in two ways.
- Complementary synbiotics are created by combining a probiotic and a prebiotic, where each one works independently to provide health benefits to the host.
- Synergistic synbiotics are created by, for example, combining a live microbe and a prebiotic-like substance. According to the ISAPP, these two elements “do not necessarily have to be individual probiotics or prebiotics, as long as the synbiotic itself is health promoting”.
There is evidence that synbiotics have health benefits, but studies in this area are continually evolving. It is therefore possible that there will be more findings for innovative and beneficial use of synbiotics in future.
Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (Hill et al., 2014).
Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis XYZ
Genus: Bifidobacterium, Species: animalis, Subspecies: lactis, Strain: XYZ
Simple definition: Live microorganisms that are good for health. They can be found in yoghurt, cultured milk, fermented products, or dietary supplements. Cultured milk, yoghurt drinks, and kombucha are examples of probiotic drinks.
A substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit on the host (Gibson et al., 2017).
Inulin, galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides.
Simple definition: Non-living things that are food for probiotics. Human milk is a rich source of prebiotics. Poppi is a brand of prebiotic soda that claims to have health benefits such as aiding weight loss and reducing blood sugar levels.
A mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrate(s) selectively utilized by host microorganisms that confers a health benefit on the host (Swanson et al., 2020).
Examples: Complementary synbiotic: inulin + Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis XYZ.
Simple definition: A mix of prebiotics and probiotics that, when used in combination, can deliver health benefits to the host. Wonder Drink Kombucha and Yakult are brands that have developed synbiotic beverages.
Apart from getting the biotic facts right, beverage manufacturers should also take note of consumer trends. For example, how much sugar should be added to the product? While studies have found that the sugar level does not affect the benefits of probiotic drinks, one should note that consumers today are more health conscious. Other areas to take note of include packaging and label claims, where beverage manufacturers can also show that they are in support of current trends such as sustainability and healthy living.
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